Updated on 13 January 2023 – by Dr. Kate
When speaking about children’s sleep issues, it is important to keep in mind that they affect both the kid and their parent. The latter cannot fall asleep themselves and it starts a never-ending cycle of stress and fatigue. Reaching for helpful dietary supplements looks like a simple and effective solution. Let us dive deeper into the topic and see if it really is what it seems to be and if is melatonin safe for kids.
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Children and insomnia
The definition of insomnia is essentially this: regularly having trouble falling asleep with reduced time of sleep is reduced and poor quality while having an opportunity to rest and suffering the comedown later.
Pediatric studies claim that up to 25% of healthy children and adolescents along with up to 75% of children with neurodevelopmental or psychiatric conditions are struggling to get a good sleep. Insomnia can cause both long-term and short-term consequences including:
- declined ability to focus;
- mood swings, e.g. irritability or apathy;
- memory issues;
- lack of motivation;
- having difficulties learning;
- higher risk of driving mistakes and accidents among teens;
- overall decline in the daytime and school productivity.
Besides other conditions that can make a kid prone to sleep problems, such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, asthma, or even gastroesophageal reflux, pediatric insomnia can be caused by the following:
- lack of sleep hygiene;
- delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS).
Bad pre-sleep patterns cause something that is called behavior-related insomnia. It can be helped without any sleep medicine and there is a list of measurements that are recommended to try before reaching to pharmaceutical sleep aid.
- Avoid taking naps during the daytime to keep healthy and consistent circadian rhythms.
- Avoid overeating before bedtime so the body can rest not being busy with digestion; a good option is having dinner at least 2 hours before suggested sleep time.
- Avoid being affected by the blue light (emitted by smartphone, tablet, and computer screens) at least an hour before you go to bed because it disrupts your natural production of melatonin.
- Practise bedtime routines, e.g., stretching, having a bath, reading a book, meditating, and changing into pajamas.
- Go to bed and wake up at a consistent time.
- Keep the room you sleep in filled with fresh air, not overheated, dark and quiet.
The treatment strategy for DSPS includes both changing sleep patterns and melatonin supplements.
What is melatonin and how does it work
Melatonin is a hormone produces by our pineal gland – an organ located in the epithalamus, near the center of the brain, between the two hemispheres. The suprachiasmatic nucleus in the hypothalamus controls its secretion. The hormone is responsible for maintaining circadian phase-shifting, or chronobiotic rhythms of the body. It also has a mild hypnotic effect and may contribute to getting sleepy but it is not a sedative or a straight-acting sleeping pill.
The effectiveness, safety, and administration of melatonin for children
The studies regarding melatonin use in children were mostly focusing on kids who suffer from neurodevelopmental disorders which makes it harder to evaluate the safety of the substance for otherwise healthy children with unremarkable anamnesis. It appears to be well-tolerated but further randomized studies with a wider selection of participants are required. It does have some side effects including headache, sleepiness, dizziness, and nausea but they are mostly associated with melatonin overdoses.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) has issued a health advisory warning that melatonin is not under the control of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), therefore, it is considered an over-the-counter dietary supplement and it’s quality may vary depending on the brand. For the safety of use, kids who have insomnia should be treated with melatonin only after a consult with their healthcare practitioner, and have regular follow-ups so the doctor can reevaluate the condition and determine if melatonin should be continued.
The best way to give melatonin is 30 to 90 minutes before supposed bedtime so there will be time for it to be digested and absorbed to cause an effect. Needless to say, you must not exceed the dose recommended by your pediatrics or family doctor and should keep the supplement away from the children’s reach.
Insomnia can be a problem both for children and adults. When having trouble falling asleep, the first good step is trying to establish more healthy sleep patterns and see where it gets you. If the results prove to be rather unsatisfactory, you can consult your doctor for a recommendation regarding melatonin.